FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Greening the Way – Fiji’s Path to a Sustainable Tourism Industry

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Greening the Way – Fiji’s Path to a Sustainable Tourism Industry

FHTA, 28 September 2023 – World Tourism Day, celebrated yesterday (September 27th, holds great significance as it highlights tourism’s profound impact on global economies, cultures, and societies.

Serving as a platform to highlight its value, the day emphasizes the multifaceted nature of tourism and its role in shaping economies worldwide.

Tourism transcends borders, making it a pivotal player in global economies. Beyond revenue and employment generation, it stimulates diverse sectors like hospitality, transportation, and entertainment, fostering infrastructure and entrepreneurship.

For Fiji, and indeed all Pacific Island Countries (PICs) it does even more, as tourism’s ability to alleviate poverty and directly provide much-needed employment and revenue-earning ability in rural and small communities is often greatly underestimated.

The heightened demand now for deeper connections to nature, to people and communities to gain a richer, more fulfilling visitor experience has seen interests in diving, trekking, reef and coral protection, river rafting and explorations, cultural activities and community support programs continue to grow at a faster pace than ever before.

World Tourism Day also highlights tourism’s deeper connection to global challenges.

Aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the sector contributes to poverty reduction, gender equality, and decent work.

By creating jobs, promoting gender parity, and addressing inequalities, tourism becomes a force for equitable and sustainable development, but this is often underappreciated and this capacity is not always understood as a way to specifically address these issues.

An excellent example of this work took place recently with the Ministry of Women and Poverty Alleviation – through the Assistant Minister, identifying this reasoning to develop an outreach program that recognised women who could be supported to be self-sufficient by being connected directly to tourism operators, who were themselves seeking interested people who could be upskilled and trained to fill existing vacancies.

Fiji is working hard to better exemplify this ethos through its theme “Tourism and Green Investment.” By embracing sustainability for economic growth, we are shifting from revival mode and post-pandemic challenges to committing more deeply to rebuilding a greener future. This approach showcases Fiji’s resilience and commitment to responsible tourism that empowers communities and preserves cultural heritage.

At the forefront of this journey to make sustainability an industry-wide practice that is also supported at a national level, we have as an Association been pushing for this recognition for the last five years.

Bringing stakeholders together, guiding the industry toward responsible practices that balance economic progress and environmental preservation, and ultimately safeguarding our future for generations to come is driven by the understanding that we must continue to protect and preserve our beautiful islands.

But it has been a long journey to bring everyone, including Government, on board for a more defined, collective focus.

In essence, World Tourism Day spotlights tourism’s intricate role in shaping a more equitable, sustainable world, and Fiji can be a leading example for the demonstration of the transformative power of responsible tourism.

Fiji’s commitment to eco-tourism extends to its breathtaking natural landscapes, inviting visitors to partake in low-impact activities like snorkelling, hiking, and wildlife observation. As World Tourism Day 2023 celebrates the green investment theme, we can be a vital catalyst for showcasing partnerships that align with this vision.

One of the more obvious ways to invest in sustainability is reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and moving to renewable and cleaner energy options. Solar power is one of the cleanest energy sources we have right now.

Available everywhere, more solar power hits the earth every day than what the entire world could use in a whole year. Now, through technological advances, we have increasingly efficient ways to harness it and provide clean electricity to households, businesses, industries, public and commercial buildings, and more. Yet Fiji lags in utilizing this abundant, natural resource.

A central facet of Fiji’s tourism industry revival was ensuring that sustainable growth benefited local communities. Beyond financial gains, we noted a historical dedication to nurturing community social structures that were being done as part of the close connections between resort operators as leaseholders in communities where they had deep, symbiotic relationships.

Many of these were never appreciated outside of the connections, yet significant in the manner that the communities, the natural environment and the tourism operators co-existed. In many instances, we noted the support for community well-being and cultural preservation efforts, apart from the obvious employment opportunities, but including fostering skill development and cultivating entrepreneurship within those communities.

We are doing more to acknowledge these examples of the intrinsic value of safeguarding Fiji’s diverse cultural heritage through tourism. While always culturally sensitive, we also recognize these might not always be culturally appropriate. In this area, we believe more active participation of the Ministry of iTaukei Affairs with tourism could support the retention of cultural activities and traditional art forms so that we retain their authenticity.

Through active engagement in projects that conserve traditional customs, languages, and art forms, we can ensure that Fiji’s rich heritage is honoured and enriched by the tourism industry.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization’s concept note for World Tourism Day 2023 discusses the essence of sustainable development through strategic investments. Emphasizing People, Planet, and Prosperity, this framework aligns with global commitments to achieve Sustainable Development Goals. The note champions investments in education, sustainability, and innovation, thereby paving the way for a more equitable and resilient future.

Investing in People, as we can fully appreciate, underscores the importance of education and skills development in tourism, equipping individuals for industry growth.

Investing in Planet highlights sustainability, green infrastructure, and climate action, making tourism an environmental positive.

Without the beautiful environment around us, we would not have this important industry. Investing in Prosperity fosters innovation, and recognizes that we can do much more for marginalized groups through promoting inclusivity and gender equality.

Fiji aims to align with UNWTO’s focus. Initiatives like eco-friendly accommodation options and activities emphasize Planet investment. Supporting communities and heritage reflects Fiji’s People’s commitment.

Encouraging innovation, entrepreneurship, and partnerships contributes to Prosperity. More importantly, all these areas feature highly on global visitor demands and are the very reason they decide to travel to regions that can deliver these creatively.

These efforts demonstrate Fiji’s dedication to sustainable, people- and planet-centric tourism recovery. A skilled workforce is obviously vital, so we must continue to invest in tailored educational programs that have the flexibility to adjust for future trends in demand, innovation and technology- recognizing when trends like labour mobility and technological changes put pressure on available skills.

Training and language courses equip our people for diverse roles in an industry where international travellers expect to be understood in the languages they speak.

We focus much-needed attention on the demand for enhanced workforce skills and more diverse talent acquisition – an industry-wide challenge that requires evaluation of how we can either develop the programs faster to plug these gaps ourselves or work with partners that have the flexibility to adjust their training offerings to fit.

We are also sharing, highlighting and promoting eco-friendly measures like curbing single-use plastics, water and energy conservation practices, and how the implementation of more effective waste management systems can save the local environment, and the planet and save businesses money in the long term.

More critically, we recognize the growing detachment of our population to the importance of these areas that do not affect them. Yet.

Through campaigns and awareness initiatives, we have been encouraging both businesses and visitors to actively contribute to Fiji’s eco-friendly transformation. By placing innovation and entrepreneurship at the core of tourism growth strategies, we can as an industry, better enhance visitor experiences while minimizing negative impacts.

Our collective approach to World Tourism Day 2023 must reflect our dedication to investing in people, the planet, and prosperity.

Sustainability and responsible tourism must be a key part of future industry growth

Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 28 September 2023)